The Very Best: White and Yellow Cakes

by Andie Mitchell on May 16, 2011

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I’m a cake connoisseur.

Really, I am.

Ask anyone.

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I can detect the subtlest of differences in flavor, the openness of the crumb, even the order wet and dry ingredients were mixed.

When I first got into baking, I approached it as I would any worldly venture: blindly and dangerously.

I stayed up late scanning recipes, inspected ratios of flour to sugar to butter to more butter to butter butter butter. Baking involves butter, I found.

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I baked sponge cake after pound cake after genoise cake after angel food, because I wanted to figure out the gentle transformation a sweet slipped through when the wet and the dry got jumbled. When the baking powder and baking soda did the nasty. Why my eggs were more willing to rise at room temperature. And finally, why (please Lord, WHY?!!!) cake didn’t frost its own damn self?

Still waiting on the last one.

True to my nature, I chose to explore baking in a wild fury. I came at her from every angle, dissected the process in every tender way, read about every nuance, and most tellingly, I taste tested every last crumb. Then I taste tested again. And just as I finished taste testing, I repeated twice more.

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And what I’ve learned from all of it, is that I love dessert*.

*I also make obvious statements at my own discretion.

A real homemade slice of something sweet. A big and round bakery layer cake, heavy on the frosting. The way fork tines slip through cheesecake like a knife through softened butter.

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Just talking about sweets now, my mouth waters; my imagination flashes to gooey and creamy and chewy and melting scoops of ice cream. Anything that would melt it so slowly. My eyes glaze over.

So when you ask me my favorite cake flavor, you’re really asking a lot of me. (Pretend to be interested here)

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I’ll just come out with it.

Ready?

Vanilla.

But not just reg’lar ole ‘nilla.

No.

Fluffy whitevanilla cake.

Not to be confused with yellowvanilla cake.

The thing is, there’s such a gentle texture, a light and lovely subtlety between white and yellow cake. But once your tongue meets this kind of sweet cream distinction, you’ll never be able to forget.

Both are rounded and rich in a smooth, creamy way. They should be moist. Soft and tender. Scented like a vanilla bean whipped with butter.

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Because I love you, I’m sharing my notes on each: yellow and white cakes. The similarities, the differences, the bestrecipes I’ve adapted for each.

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Let’s begin with white cake. It’s dainty, almost unbearably light, so tender that it crumbles at your lips. The texture is fluffy, puffed and cloud-like, whipped only with egg whites. The flavor is gentle, sweet and vanilla-scented. The crumb is small and tight, fine like velvet. This is the kind of cake you’d have at your wedding. It’s fragile, unforgettable and vulnerable. She pairs well with whipped white frosting.

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Now, yellow. Yeller, as I call her. She’s just as tender, but perhaps sturdier than her ethereal white sister. Pale and sunny-hued with rich, egg custard flavor. Her crumb is bigger, more open and airy, moister. She tastes smooth and intense like all butter pound cake. Silkier because of her beaten yeller’ yolks. This is the kind of cake that holds up under rich chocolate frosting. She shines vanilla even without a bold topping.

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Perfect White Cupcakes

(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

makes 12

…..

1 cup cake flour

½ cup whole milk, at room temperature

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup standard size cupcake tin with paper liners. Spritz each with nonstick cooking spray.

Lightly whisk milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract in large glass measuring cup.

Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand electric mixer and add butter; beating at low speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no large clumps of flour.

Add 3/4 of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using handheld mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 20 seconds longer at low speed.

Evenly distribute the batter in the cupcake tin. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cupcakes from the pan carefully and let them cool completely on a wire rack.

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Perfect Yellow Cupcakes

(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

makes 12

1 ½ cups sll-purpose flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sour cream

2 large eggs , room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup standard sized cupcake tin with paper liners and spritz lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a standing electric mixer. Add butter, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and mix by hand until smooth and no clumps of flour are visible.

Evenly divide the batter among the cups in your prepared pan. Bake until cupcake tops are pale gold and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pan carefully and let them cool completely on a wire rack.

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

Halley May 16, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Ooooh! Love it. I always like to compare recipes and see the products.
Also have you seen this book? It’s really great if you like free-styling with structure.
http://www.amazon.com/Ratio-Simple-Behind-Everyday-Cooking/dp/1416571728/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1305606286&sr=8-1

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Amy January 31, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Can’t wait to try the white cake recipe. Do you think it would work to form into cake pops? Also, I only currently have buttermilk, do you think that would work. Thanks!

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Johnny May 17, 2011 at 2:22 am

Wow, before you where finished I could smell them baking and cooling on the rack! Without actually biting into one I can taste them by just the way you describe them. I’ve always loved (did I say Loved),I mean love chocolate, couldn’t find any use for vanila. You just made my mouth water for vanila, I can’t believe it! :)

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Cait @ Beyond Bananas May 17, 2011 at 2:44 am

Since these are the BEST, I wll surely have to make them.. BOTH!

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Lauren at Keep It Sweet May 17, 2011 at 2:56 am

Ah I obviously love dessert, too, but don’t think I have a favorite cake… maybe chocolate? I like too many desserts and go through too many phases to decide! Guess I’ll have to try both your white AND yellow cake recipes asap:-)

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The Café Sucré Farine May 17, 2011 at 4:12 am

Perfect! I am having a cupcake party next week and will try this yellow cake recipe to go with my caramel frosting! Thanks for sharing and your wonderful descriptions, love it!

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Sarah@The Flying ONION May 17, 2011 at 4:17 am

I adore white cake! It’s one of my favorites as well. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. It’s not easy finding a tried and true recipe to go with, so I’m excited that you have one right here. Especially since my sister and I are planning a cupcake making party for this Sunday. :D

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Amy B @ Second City Randomness May 17, 2011 at 4:51 am

Eggs rise better at room temperature?

I feel as if a shooting star should go across the room to the theme of “the more you knooooowwww….”

I had no idea!

Yellow cake is more my thing- for the reason you listed of being a little more dense…. mmmm

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Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat May 17, 2011 at 5:26 am

I would choose vanilla over chocolate any day!! These sound delicious, fluffy, and just what I would crave, well… at any time of day!

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Krystina (Organically Me) May 17, 2011 at 5:32 am

Beautiful. I would have to agree with you – white vanilla cake is so delicate and pillowy.

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Laura Jane @ Recovering Chocoholic May 17, 2011 at 5:52 am

I also love white cake!! I usually don’t have a lot of success with a from scratch cake, but I’ll have to try this.

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Mariah May 17, 2011 at 6:01 am

Its nice to know I’m not the only one who can describe the nuances of baked goods with such zeal. I’m right there with you. ALthough my favorite is chocolate, old fashioned-style. Yum.

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MelissaNibbles May 17, 2011 at 6:27 am

I love love love anything vanilla. This looks so delicious. Please mail it to me. Kthxbai!

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Melissa May 17, 2011 at 6:30 am

I am a devout follower of chocolate cake, but I found myself reading this post simply because I love your writing so much. And I believe you may have convinced me to bake some white cupcakes in the near future. That is an impressive feat, my friend!

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natalie (the sweets life) May 17, 2011 at 6:31 am

totally bookmarking this. i actually need to make cupcakes this weekend…for a 1 yr old and his belated bday celebration. any idea which would go over better? or do you have a foolproof chocolate cupcake recipe? :)

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Kelly May 17, 2011 at 6:53 am

I am such not a baker…I wish I was. I am never precise enough and my baked good always turn out wrong. Either over or under cooked…never right!

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Alisha @ Wee Foodie Fashionista May 17, 2011 at 7:26 am

YAY! I can’t wait to try both of these. Good white cake is so delicious but it’s so hard to find the perfect recipe. They’re always so dry. :D

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Shanna, Like Banana May 17, 2011 at 8:25 am

We are kindred spirtis dear Andrea. Vanilla cake (white or yellow) makes my heart sing.

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Gina May 17, 2011 at 9:03 am

I love learning tips and the science that goes into baking. There is so much more measuring and precision with baking than cooking. My favorite cake combo is yellow with chocolate frosting, just can’t go wrong with that guy!

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Leanne (Bride to Mrs.) May 17, 2011 at 9:12 am

I seriously wish you lived near me (or I near you!) because I feel like we would be the best of friends.

I cannot wait to make these… maybe my fiance will want some fluffy cupcakes for his 26th birthday? :) do you have a recipe for an equally delicious frosting?

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Cortney @ Nerd on the Run May 17, 2011 at 9:22 am

Oh wow! Is 9:30ish too early for cake?! I’m totally drooling at my desk. :) On a side note: Do you make your own vanilla or buy the expensive “good” stuff? Just wondering.

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Megan (Braise The Roof) May 17, 2011 at 10:10 am

Thank you for clarifying the difference. I think we’re one step closer to world peace now. ;) And I’m definitely a yellow cake girl. Gotta love those yolks!

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Jenny (Fit Girl Foodie) May 17, 2011 at 10:27 am

Wow these look amazing. I think my next birthday cake needs to come from you ;)

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Clarissa @ Sober and the City May 17, 2011 at 10:33 am

Yummy! My favorite cupcakes/cake is Confetti! I don’t know if you can make those “homemade” but out of the box it is so good – esp the confettie icing you can buy…sigh. I’m actually more of a pie person, but I am with you on the Vanilla cake! For now I am existing on raw cocao macaroons.

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Alexa @ Simple Eats May 17, 2011 at 11:36 am

I love love LOVE white cake. These look perfect!

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Jo @ Jo In the Kitchen May 17, 2011 at 11:46 am

Mmmmmm, you had me at cake ;)

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Leah @ Why Deprive? May 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I should have known better than to read this before I’ve had lunch.
Im not sure which one I want more – I may have to make two cakes now.

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Helena May 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Mmmh yum! How fluffy they both look :)

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Lisa May 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Good cake is amazing….and white cake is my fave. Thanks for your thoughts and insights on it. mmmmmmm

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Nelly Rodriguez May 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I’m going to have to do this experiment for myself! In the name of research of course. I’m gonna predict I’ll like Yeller more. Yolks…they rock :)

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chelsey @ clean eating chelsey May 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Look at you, Miss Two Cupcake Recipes! :) Looks delicious!

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Nicole May 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Ooh, thanks for sharing these recipes!!!

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Amy @ What Jew Wanna Eat May 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm

This is perfect! I am always overwhelmed but how many different white and yellow cake recipes are out there. Now I know where to go!

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Bee May 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm

My co-worker was JUST asking me for a good yellow cake recipe! I’m not particularly a baker, so I was having troubles. I should have known to just direct him here ;)

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Honey @ Honey, What's Cooking May 18, 2011 at 9:42 am

great post! i love it! i was actually wondering what could the difference have been between the 2, what makes one white over yellow. DUH! Of course, it had to be the eggs. How silly could i be? Since i’m on the healthier side and my tummy is my biggest enemy, i’m most definitely going to make the white cupcakes and link back to you! YOu are awesome to do this comparison and soooooooooo pretty!!! A very angelic face, ok, i’m not weird for saying that, right? I’m married. :-)

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Julia May 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm

The white cupcakes are the best I’ve made! I top them with whipped frosting and strawberries. I’m so in love with your site, Andrea, none of your recipes have failed me! Thanks for all you do!

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Megan S. June 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I’ve been saving this recipe for a special occasion and my baby girl turns 1 this weekend so I get to make these! Can’t wait!

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Haley July 16, 2011 at 11:32 am

These tasted amazing. I made both for dinner last night. Completely delicious. I added mini M&M’s to some of the yellow cake cupcakes and they were awe.some.

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Rene January 9, 2012 at 7:07 am

I made the white cake for my Grandfather last Wednesday and they were a huge hit! Thank you! :)

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LIsa Cohn January 16, 2012 at 9:51 am

The yellow cake came out dry — I’ll try the white next. the batter was thick — not cakelike — and I re-read to make sure I wasn’t missing any ingredients. Are we supposed to use “cake flour” or double sift or something? I almost added another egg or some milk because the consistency was off. That said — I had to test the cupcakes before serving. It’s buttery — so that’s the saving grace, and I’m serving them tonight anyway, but I won’t be using the “yeller” recipe again.

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Reina January 28, 2012 at 11:52 am

I love how u compared the two!! I am so glad I came across
This recipe, I’ve tried others and nothing compares
To your vanilla white cupcakes!! I whipped up a batch of
These cupcakes and they were amazing, but when I tried to make a
Cake for my sons birthday it failed! I doubled the recipe and
It was chewy and not as fluffy as the cupcakes.
What do you think went wrong? Should I have used less
Egg whites in the doubled recipe? Thanks

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Alison July 22, 2012 at 8:31 pm

This is also perfect as a small cake. I made 2 layers changing one layer in to a chocolate layer. I used this recipe and took out 2 tablespoons of flour and added about 2-4 tablespoons (can’t remember exactly what I did)I think the trick must be the whole milk. This is the first recipe that’s turned out great that calls for this ingredient. I got several compliments on my cake for our VBS program tonight. I now have a great “base cake” I suppose I have heard it called. Thanks for all the hard work at creating this recipe. I wish I knew how to form recipes. I had 2 small pieces left.

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Janine July 23, 2012 at 9:32 am

I just wanted to tell you that white cake is my favourite cake also, and I have never found the perfect homemade recipe so I must always rely on store-bought white cakes. My birthday just passed last week and when my mom asked me what kind of cake I wanted, I told her white of course, and gave her your recipe to try.

Lo and behold, she tried it and it was PERFECTION. Seriously, perfect perfect perfect. We doubled the recipe to make a THREE layer cake with light and fluffy marshmallow-y vanilla icing, and it was amazing.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Here’s something you may be interested in as a fellow Fluff/marshmallow fan: when you make these white cakes into cupcakes, just before they are finished, place a large marshmallow on the top of each cupcake and place back in the oven for a minute or two. The marshmallow will turn golden and melt over the top of the cupcake. *drool*

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Marisa August 8, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Looks great! What temperature/time would you recommend to make the white cake as an actual cake, and not individual cupcakes

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Marisa August 8, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Looks great! What temperature/time would you recommend to make the white cake as an actual cake, and not individual cupcakes?

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Shana October 21, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Can you make the white cupcake recipe as a layer cake? Any adjustments for cool times or ingredients?

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Michelle August 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I came across your recipe while searching for a vanilla cupcake recipe for my husband’s birthday. I made the yellow batter this evening, and was skeptical that the mixing method (basically, dump it in and mix it up) would produce a light texture. THESE ARE FANTASTIC!!! Extremely moist, and have a delicate crumb. It will be my go-to recipe from now on for vanilla cupcakes. THANK YOU very much!!

I live at just over 5000 feet elevation, so I made just a couple minor adjustments (only for altitude, not taste). I added a TB each of butter and sour cream, and decreased the baking powder to 1 3/4 tsp instead of 2. I also increased the baking temperature to 375, and baked for 18 minutes. Up here, things can raise too quickly, then fall, so decreasing the leavening and increasing temp can help prevent that.

Thank you so much again! These turned out so well that I look forward to perusing your other offerings.

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Tamara October 5, 2012 at 11:41 am

The white cupcakes are PERFECT, just absolutely perfect. Exactly how I wanted the cake to be, delicate, light, moist, and tasty! I was seriously skeptical about the process ( mixing flour with butter) but it must be the magic trick because these are the best. Thanks SOOO much!!

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Adriana October 19, 2012 at 11:54 am

I used the white cupcake recipe to bake a 9-inch cake and it was the best white cake I’ve ever eaten. Thanks!

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yolanda October 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm

i made the yellow cake cupcakes last night to see how they would taste because i’m looking for a perfect yellow cake for my boyfriend’s birthday. needless to say, i’m definitely in love. i’m going to make the vanilla cake soon! my only concern was that my batter was pretty thick, but i don’t think it mattered because the yellow cake was delicious!

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Jen October 27, 2012 at 11:58 am

I have been testing out every yellow cake recipe I have come across trying to find my go-to recipe. I had thought I found one I loved…until I came across this post, so I decided to give one more recipe a try, and it was perfect! The first time I made it, I made cupcakes and they got great reviews. Then I needed to make 2 birthday cakes so I made a yellow cake and white cake using these recipes and everyone loved them!! Thanking you so much for posting these, and ending my search for the perfect yellow cake. :)

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Yadira Taboada-Palacios October 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Andie, what would be the recipe if one were attempting to bake a cake instead of cupcakes? Thanks- i cant wait to bake!

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Yadira Taboada-Palacios November 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Andie what would be the receipe for a White vanilla 2 layered 8 or 9 inch cake? Thanks

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Joy November 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Um, quick question. Do you mean All purpose flour or Self rising flour? I wanna try this recipe for a rainbow cake and so far yours is the only one that seems reasonable. Martha suggested 9 eggs. I don’t have nine eggs to waste on one freaking cake.

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admin November 18, 2012 at 6:51 am

Hi Joy! No, I don’t use self-rising flour in either recipe. For the white cake, I use cake flour- which just has a fine, lighter texture than all-purpose flour. And then for the yellow cake, I use all-purpose regular flour.

Andie

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Jessica January 10, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Hi Andie, Have you tried clear vanilla extract for the white cake? I prefer pure extract over imitation but am curious if the clear would make the cake even more white. Thank you for you insight. ~Jessica

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admin January 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Hey Jessica,
Nope I haven’t tried it! But you know, I think it could be great. I’ve seen it available in craft stores in the baking/cake decorating sections and I’ve always wondered if it would taste artificial or just the same as the true extract. Let me know if you do decide to try it!
Andie

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Kim January 12, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Will this work with whole wheat pastry flower or white wheat flour?

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admin January 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Hey Kim,

Unfortunately, no, neither of these recipes will work with an alternate flour than the one listed in the ingredients. Unlike other recipes where substitutions are possible, these are so delicate that I think the texture would really be ruined by the whole wheat/pastry/white whole wheat.

Good question, though!

Andie

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mary January 28, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I used this recipe all excited to be trying something new for myself for me and my kids on my birthday. They completely bombed, taste bitter. I tried using egg replacer because i don’t eat eggs (or meat) and it is not a good subsitute. learn something new every day. back to the drawing board.

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mary January 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm

No reflection on your recipe of course. i just wouldn’t recommend it to people who don’t use eggs, or use the substitute i used.

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admin January 28, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Oh no, sorry to hear it, Mary :(

I don’t really have any experience with egg replacers, but if I ever come up with a recipe that omits the egg, I’ll let you know!

Andie

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Sharlene Conley February 2, 2013 at 8:26 am

Will this recipe work for 8in round cake pans? I’m dying to make this but i want to make sure it will work for a regular cake!

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admin February 2, 2013 at 9:49 am

Hey Sharlene,

Yes, it will work! Just be sure to adjust the baking time a bit–the 8″ cakes will take a few minutes more.

Andie

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Kay February 9, 2013 at 8:33 am

Good morning! I LOVE your comparison pictures here. I am a lover of white cake. I love the softness and tightness of the crumb. I do not like that it generally results in a puny cupcake or that it becomes dry very quickly. Because of this I’m in search of a cake that has a bit more yolk to give it more volume but still maintains the same softness of the white. Oh…and not too much of an egg custard taste :-) Many I’ve tried in the past results in a cornbread& muffin taste/consistency. Is this true with this yellow cupcake?

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admin February 9, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Hi Kay,

It’s great to meet another person so interested in the fine details of good cake.
I know what you mean about some yellow cake recipes yielding results that taste and feel like cornbread, but I can assure you that this yellow cake is not AT ALL like that. This yellow cake recipe, though thicker and less delicate than the white cake, is still quite soft. And while the crumb is bigger and looser, it’s still very small in comparison to the size of crumbly cornbread.

I have a feeling you’d really like this recipe. But please do let me know how it goes if you decide to try it; I’d love to get your feedback!

Andie

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Bonnie Arnold April 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I’ve made this white cake recipe many times. I love the flavor and texture, but it tends to stick to the cupcake liner. It’s frustrating when you peel the liner away and there isn’t any cupcake left! Your picture shows a perfect cupcake when peeled away from the liner. Any suggestions? Thanks!

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Andie April 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Hey Bonnie!

Hmm…I haven’t had as much of a sticking problem. Just to be sure: are you coating the paper liners with nonstick cooking spray before filling them?

Andie

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Bonnie Arnold April 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Yep! I should just try it again and really give those babies a good spraying. It’s my favorite cake batter to taste, honestly. And I have had good success with it as a layer cake. On a side note…I read some of your past blogs on weight loss and they are wonderful! Very inspirational. Some things that were very timely for me to hear, so thanks!

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Andie April 4, 2013 at 10:25 am

Gosh, this bums me out, Bonnie. I’m sorry that they’re sticking! Next time I make them, I’ll see how it goes, but I don’t remember having an issue? I am happy to hear that the flavor is there, though.

And thank you for your kind words about my weight loss posts! They mean quite a bit, and hearing that others can relate just makes it worthwhile that I share, so really–I appreciate it more than I can fully express :)

Andie

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Heather April 10, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Can you give instructions for baking the white cupcakes into a cake? Did you use 2 pans? Thanks!

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katie September 6, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Great recipe! really enjoyed the comparison between yellow and white. I made the yellow and it came out initially not silky but thick so i added a little almond milk to loosen it up and they turned out great in the oven. I also ran the dry through a sieve (i was scared they would turn out like rocks cause this has happened to me more than a million times) i dont know if that helped but i did it just for safe measure.

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Heidi January 22, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Can I add lemon juice to this recipe in place of the vanilla or as well as?

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Keira January 26, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Made the yellow cake yesterday and were a hit! i put some lemon curd in the center aswell. Definitely the best yellow cake recipie though!!

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Michi March 5, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Hallo,

Thank you for sharing this recipe. I made white cake cupcakes and they are spectacular, white, fine, fluffy. Gorgeous.

Thanks so much!

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Alesia April 14, 2014 at 3:14 pm

I just made these. YUM! I was trying a couple recipes for my son’s birthday party next Saturday. While putting them on the cooling rack I dropped one and it went delicious side down onto the floor :( So…we ripped the top off. No wasting these. My son (turning 3 in a week) usually licks the frosting off and runs off. Without the frosting or yummy crispy top he ate that whole thing!
Now to figure out how to level my stove so that they don’t bake looking like the tower of pisa!
Thanks for the wonderful recipe.

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Linda billingsley April 14, 2014 at 7:42 pm

I just made the white cupcakes . They are light but some have sunken in. They seem very fragile. They do not look like in your picture!

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